Tattletale pills, that’s what they call them at the University of Florida (Gainesville, USA) – sensors embedded in pills to indicate whether the pills have been taken or not. The announcement of this new use of technology describes the system as microscale chip and digestible antenna placed in each pill so that ingestion can be monitored.
That people don’t take their pills as they should is well known (and confirmed by many studies). It’s usually identified as one of the more important health problems in countries where medicines are taken regularly for chronic conditions. It is also a problem for testing new medicines. If people don’t take the pills with regularity, the test results may be invalidated. This is known as “the compliance problem.”
The system devised by Rizwan Bashirullah, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, consists of a customized white capsule (standard size and form) with a label in silvery lines. The silvery lines are the antenna, printed on the pill with nontoxic conductive silver nanoparticles in the ink. The capsule also contains a tiny microchip about the size of this . period. The chip is mounted so it is connected to the antenna.
Although the description of the pill don’t say so directly, the system works much like RFID tagging (Radio Frequency Identification). A transmitter/receiver device located on the body sends out a signal that triggers the microchip in the pill. Using the energy of the signal, the chip transmits its own signal indicating that the pill has been taken. (It could transmit other information as well, including a pill identifier.) The external receiver gathers this information and then relays it to a cell phone or laptop computer. For now the transmitter/receiver unit is standalone, although one day it could be incorporated into a cell phone, wrist watch, or a device embedded in the body.
The acids in the stomach will quickly remove the capsule, including the antenna. The microchip will pass through the digestive system.
“The vision of this project has always been that you have an antenna that is biocompatible, and that essentially dissolves a little while after entering the body,” Bashirullah said.
The team has successfully tested the pill system in artificial human models, as well as cadavers. Researchers have also simulated stomach acids to break down the antenna to learn what traces it leaves behind. Bashirullah said those tests had determined the amount of silver retained in the body is tiny, less than what people often receive from common tap water
[Source: University of Florida, Engineering]
Comment: There is no sense of irony in the University of Florida announcement. It does use the word ‘tattletale’ (snitch, informer, telltale, tattler, blab, fink, squealer, stoolie). I guess the good folks at the U. of Florida have never seen the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or any of the other scores of movies and TV programs that feature people trying to beat the pill forcing culture of hospitals, prisons, and hostile interrogation. Anyway, this is but a taste (pardon the expression) of what’s to come with micro and nano sensor devices.